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Molly Moorhead
By Molly Moorhead August 13, 2012

Bills have passed, but with millions in earmarks

Congress is currently working under a self-imposed "earmark moratorium" that in theory should limit the popular practice of attaching millions of dollars in spending to important matters like the Department of Defense budget and money for troops fighting wars.

By passing "clean" spending bills, House Republicans said troops would get the resources they need "without delay.”

Taxpayers for Common Sense, a Washington spending watchdog, said that while spending bills have passed, they have not been free of extraneous spending.

The group defines earmarks as "legislative provisions that set aside funds within an account for a specific program, project, activity, institution, or location. These measures normally circumvent merit-based or competitive allocation processes and appear in spending, authorization, tax, and tariff bills."

This pledge does not specifically discuss earmarks, but it talks about "extraneous domestic spending” and "pork-barrel projects," which we think also fit that definition. (We contacted a spokesman for House Speaker John Boehner for this story but did not hear back.)

In the 2013 defense spending bill, which passed the House in July, there's money for a children's education program called Starbase, a bone marrow registry and Anti-Submarine Warfare research, to name a few turkeys. In some cases, the money was not officially disclosed as an earmark (because of the moratorium), but was called that in years past.

"Under the moratorium, they don't call them earmarks anymore. But there is still money in the defense bill that is going to specific programs and specific locations,” said Laura Peterson, senior policy analyst with Taxpayers for Common Sense.

The prior year's defense spending bill, according to an examination by the Fiscal Times, had 115 earmarks worth $834 million -- "including 20 by Republican freshmen who campaigned against earmarks for pet projects.”

Since the terrorist attacks of 2001 and the launching of two wars, Congress has also passed supplemental bills to pay for those operations. But Peterson said these "overseas contingency operations bills” regularly have earmarks attached too.

So what's a clean bill: one that makes it through Congress, or one that makes it through free of pork-barrel spending?

Said Peterson: "If the GOP defines ‘clean' defense bills as free of earmarks, then we would say they failed based on our definition of earmark. However, if they define it as simply not getting held up, then they technically would have succeeded, though it's an empty pledge since earmarks generally don't hold up bills.”

Bottom line: the troops in Iraq and Afghanistan have gotten the resources they need, as promised by the GOP, but the bills have been peppered with earmarks, per politics as usual. We rate this a Compromise.

Editor's note: This pledge originally had the headline "Pass military spending bills separately.” We have updated it to more closely reflect the language from the GOP Pledge to America.

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